Buyer's guide to MTB winter tyres

By Guy Kesteven | Monday, December 3, 2007 7.23pm

Winter riding is fantastic fun, but only if your tyres can cope with the lack of traction. We've been riding the sloppiest trails around to find out which treads really cut it in the mud...

What to look for

Get the perfect tyre for you...

If there's one thing you can count on this winter, it's that the trails will turn to mush with major crash potential. You'll be needing winter tyres, but you need to choose carefully. Here's what you need to know...

Poptastic

Firstly, the tyre needs to be tough enough to survive your riding style. A 1.8in skinny tyre might slice muck and leave mud room in your frame, but all except the heaviest duty versions will bounce or burst as soon as rocks or drops are involved.

Because speeds are generally lower and the ground softer in winter, you can probably go a size smaller than normal (eg, 2.35in instead of 2.5in). Wide tyres give a bigger tread footprint but are more likely to clog your frame.

Tread type

Tall spikes or blocks are best in wet and muddy conditions but they're likely to wander, wobble or snap out suddenly on harder surfaces. Paddle or broad/low block treads do not corner well on grass or wet/muddy surfaces but they are predictable on other terrain and are often a better all-round compromise.

Under pressure

The recommended running pressures make a big difference to how suitable a tyre is for different terrain. Low pressures let the tyre distort and mould over rocks and roots. They also give a broader 'footprint' for floating over bogs and generally getting more tread onto the trail. Low pressures mean the tyre is more likely to squirm though - particularly with a tall, spiky tread - and it will roll quite slowly. High pressures make the knobs stick up firmer and squirm less and stop the tyre pinch puncturing on sharp edges, although traction suffers.

Special needs

We've split this test into hardcore (downhill and freeride) and crosscountry tyres but specialist and more general types are included. Specialist XC race tyres need to be light for fast acceleration, thin enough to cut through muck, offer mud space in your frame, and shed mud fast too. Specialist DH tyres can be broad or thin; either way they need reinforced sidewalls to cope with slamming into rocks at speed, landing big drops and handling low pressures while maintaining stability. Our 'performance' score reflects these different tyre attributes.

Carcass

The woven fibre and rubber body of the tyre. A downhill tyre needs a reinforced carcass to shrug off rocks and stop it folding under high loads/ low pressures. Crosscountry tyres have skinnier walls for lower weight but need to be run with higher pressures and handled with more care.

Width

The narrower the tyre, the deeper it can cut into mud for grip. A narrow tyre is more likely to wobble and pinch flat when pushed hard though.

Shoulder tread

Your last hope for cornering and off-camber grip before you end up on your arse. Reinforcement stops this tread flexing.

Spacing

Generally, the wider the space between the knobs, the faster a tyre will clear gunk. Wider spaced treads are often slower, noisier and wear faster though.

Rubber

Soft-compound, sticky or slow-rebound rubber is great for extra grip on hard surfaces. It bends and wanders more than harder rubber so it needs extra buttressing. Soft rubber also wears out faster.

Centre tread

The knobs in the middle of the tyre; these maintain straight-line traction.

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